Monday, May 27, 2013

The Curse of the Bronze Lamp: Review

The Curse of the Bronze Lamp is the 16th Sir Henry Merrivale mystery by Carter Dickson (John Dickson Carr).  Originally published in 1945, The Saturday Review's guide to detective fiction (an article called "The Criminal Record") gave it this review at the time: "Symphonic variations on a G.K.C. theme--which doesn't give it away.  H. M. at his best in puzzling, amusing, and brilliantly plotted yarn. Get it!"  There are lots of sites and reviewers who have said that it is Carr's best work featuring Merrivale.  I don't believe that I agree.  While I enjoyed this one and certainly rate it higher than some of his later stories, I wouldn't say that it's better than The Judas Window or The Peacock Feather Murders (The Ten Teacups).

In this outing, Lady Helen Loring has been in Egypt with her father, Lord Severn, at the site of an archeological dig.  Towards the end of the trip, one of the archeologists falls ill and dies from a scorpion bite.  Rumors soon begin to fly that the tomb and its contents was cursed....and when word gets out that Lady Helen intends to take an ancient bronze lamp with her back to England--a gift from the Egyptian Government, a mystic comes crawling out of the woodwork to proclaim a curse:  If Lady Helen insists on taking the lamp home, then she will never reach her bedroom (the lamp's intended resting place) alive.  She will be "blown to dust as if she never existed." Lady Helen vows to prove the prophecy wrong.

Sir Henry Merrivale has also been in Egypt--taking a rest cure.  And he is on hand at the train station to hear the prophet of doom speak his piece.  Lady Helen initially says that she would like Merrivale's advice, but suddenly changes her mind.  Once back in England, Merrivale becomes worried about the situation and drives down to Severn Hall to see what's up--only to find that Lady Helen has indeed vanished from her own home.  The house itself was surrounded by gardeners and workmen who had been hard at work getting the estate ready for the Lorings return.  They all swear that no one came back out of the house.  The house has been searched and there is no sign of Lady Helen save for the coat she dropped in the hall and the bronze lamp lying by its side.

A mysterious foreign voice tips off the police and the newspapermen and soon Inspector Masters arrives to get to the bottom of things.  Lord Severn follows his daughter home and another disappearing act takes place in his study.  It is up to Sir Henry to reveal how not one, but two people could disappear from the country house without a trace.

This is a decent "impossible" mystery.  It opens very nicely in Cairo and the introduction to the characters is fun and full of Carr's good humor.  Sir Henry is in fine form--particularly in the incident with the taxi driver.  Somewhere about the middle (mid-way between the two disappearances), it started to lag for me, bringing the tale down to a three-star outing instead of four.  The key to the first disappearance isn't too hard to spot if you've got a lot of mysteries under your belt, but still a pretty fine performance by the master. 

Challenges: 150 Plus Reading Challenge, Color Coded Challenge, Embarrassment of Riches, Monthly Mix-up Mania, Mount TBR Challenge, Off the Shelf, Outdo Yourself, Vintage Mystery Challenge, 52 in 52 Weeks, Around the World

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